Ermila Troconis de Veracoechea has taken on a large subject here. The work purports to study all foreign immigration to Venezuela from the sixteenth century to the present, with the emphasis on the efforts to establish foreign agricultural colonies in the nineteenth century. Much of the material presented is undigested, but some summarized or reprinted documents (such as the census of foreigners in Venezuela in 1607, or the 1912 commissioned report on the inhabitants of the Araira colony) may be of use to students of Venezuelan social history.

Like their counterparts in the rest of Latin America in the nineteenth century, Venezuelan leaders tried to draw foreigners to populate and farm the lightly populated rural areas. Lack of effective support by the Venezuelan government and lack of preparation by the immigrants doomed most of these sponsored immigration projects to failure. Scots, Canary Islanders, and Germans alike quickly abandoned the agricultural colonies for the cities or left Venezuela altogether. Two exceptions to the general failure were the much-studied Colonia Tovar, a German colony founded in 1843 that still exists today, and the Araira colony in Miranda state, established by President Antonio Guzman Blanco in 1874. The latter, unlike Colonia Tovar, mixed Venezuelans and foreigners in the transparent hope that the presumed skills and superior qualities of the foreigners would rub off on the Venezuelans. The colony also suffered from erratic official attention and subsidy, but limped along until the second decade of the twentieth century, when it finally succumbed to a plague of lawsuits over its land titles.

Troconis de Veracoechea’s outline history leads to the logical conclusion that government decrees and half-baked aspirations could not attract foreigners when economic opportunities were few. In contrast, the lure of “black gold” since World War II has been so strong that the government cannot effectively keep foreigners out.